The swimming pool at the St. Regis Mumbai, a Marriott property.
Marriott Hotels
The swimming pool at the St. Regis Mumbai, a Marriott property.
CNN —  

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Our quick take: The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card offers luxury travel benefits, including a Marriott credit worth up to $300 each year, and is a good fit for travelers who are loyal to the Marriott brand and want elite benefits with every stay.

Pros:

  • Earn 6 points for every dollar spent on Marriott purchases.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on other purchases.
  • Complimentary Marriott Gold elite status for being a card member.
  • Up to $300 in annual Marriott credits.
  • Receive an annual Free Night Award that can be used at any Marriott property worth up to 50,000 points starting with the second year you have the card.
  • Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership.

Cons:

  • Marriott Bonvoy points aren’t as valuable as some other hotel points.
  • The card’s perks can be difficult to use if you aren’t a regular at Marriott hotels.
  • $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Current welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 within three months of opening the account, plus up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within six months of opening the account.

Best for: Marriott loyalists who are willing to pay a steep $450 annual fee to get a premium hotel credit card with VIP benefits and perks.

Digging into the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

There are four Marriott credit cards to choose from, yet the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card stands out as the luxury option. This card isn’t cheap with a $450 annual fee, but it comes with by far the most perks among Marriott credit cards.

Each year, Marriott Brilliant Amex card members get up to $300 in credits that can be used at participating Marriott hotels and resorts. If you can use those $300 in credits, you’ll effectively knock the annual fee down to just $150, which is only $55 more than the typical $95 annual fee charged for many other travel credit cards.

In addition, when you have the Marriott Brilliant Amex card, you can get up to $100 in property credit for qualifying charges when you book direct at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties using a special rate for a two-night minimum stay. This credit is in addition to the $300 in annual Marriott credits, and can be used for expenses such as room service and spa treatments.

Card members also get complimentary Marriott Gold elite status, which comes with benefits like 25% bonus points on stays, late 2 p.m. checkout when available and enhanced room upgrades.

Other perks of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card include a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, up to $100 in credits for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership application, 15 elite night credits each calendar year and a nice package of consumer protections and travel insurance benefits.

Related: Having a credit card with trip insurance could save you thousands on your next vacation.

Advantages of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card

When you add up the perks you get with the Marriott Brilliant Amex, you can easily get more value from the card than it costs, especially in the first year.

The math starts to make sense when you put together the up to $300 in credits that can be used at participating Marriott properties and up to $200 in credits at U.S. restaurants during the first six months you have the card. That’s $500 in credits, which completely offset the $450 annual fee, and that’s even if you don’t use the credits for Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis stays.

And although the up to $200 in credits at U.S. restaurants ends after the first six months, starting with the second year you have the card (and every year thereafter), you’ll get a Free Night Award that can be redeemed for one night at any Marriott property worth up to 50,000 points.

Based on Marriott’s award chart, that means you can use your Free Night Award at any Category 1 to 5 hotel, any Category 6 Marriott when off-peak or standard rates are in effect and even at a Category 7 property during off-peak dates. That opens up popular spots like the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu or the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino in the Caribbean.

Guests at the Marriott Renaissance Aruba have exclusive access to their own private island.
Marriott Hotels
Guests at the Marriott Renaissance Aruba have exclusive access to their own private island.

We also like the fact that the Marriott Brilliant Amex comes with 15 elite night credits each year. While you’ll already get Marriott Gold elite status with the card to score some elite benefits right away, the elite credits give you a leg up when it comes to climbing up to higher levels of status through paid stays.

Finally, the Marriott Brilliant Amex has a surprising number of consumer protections for a hotel credit card. Travel-related perks include secondary auto rental coverage, a baggage insurance plan, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and trip delay coverage. Other benefits include purchase protection against damage or theft, return protection and an extended warranty on eligible items.

Disadvantages of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card

Obviously, the biggest downside of the Marriott Brilliant Amex is its $450 annual cost. We’ve shown how you can offset that cost each year by utilizing the card’s various perks, but that’s only feasible if you stay at Marriott hotels on a frequent basis.

Even if you’re a Marriott regular, the fact that all of the card’s perks come with conditions is another annoyance. For example, you can only get the up to $300 in annual credits if you stay at participating Marriott properties and spend at least that much while you’re there.

Meanwhile, the up to $100 in credits at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties is only good for stays of two nights or longer booked directly with Marriott, so you can’t book with an online travel agency like Expedia or Orbitz and use the perk. And the card’s annual Free Night Award that you get starting with your second card member year isn’t unlimited, so you can’t use it at the ultra-top-tier Marriott resorts.

You get the point. The $450 annual fee on the Marriott Brilliant Amex can be a good value, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get your money’s worth, which is unfortunately a common theme when it comes to perks on American Express cards.

Stacking up the Marriott Brilliant Amex card against our benchmark

CNN Underscored uses the Citi® Double Cash Card as our “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they’re worse.

Here’s how the Marriott Brilliant Amex card scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that’s better than our benchmark, red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.

KEY DETAILS
Citi Double Cash Card Marriott Brilliant Card
Card type Mastercard American Express
Welcome bonus None 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, plus up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first six months
REWARDS
Earning rate 2% on all purchases (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay it off) 6 points per dollar on Marriott purchases, 3 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 points per dollar on all other purchases
Redemption value 1 cent (cash back) 0.8 cents per mile*
Ease of basicredemptions Easy Easy
Advanced redemptionoptions Can convert cash back to ThankYou points thattransfer to 16 airline partners if you also havethe Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige® Card Can redeem for travel packages or gift cards or share your points with other members
Quality of advanced redemptions Good Fair
FEES
Annual fee $0 $450
Foreign transaction fee 3% None
BENEFITS AND PROTECTIONS
Travel perks None Gold elite status with Marriott Bonvoy, up to $300 annual Marriott credit, up to $100 property credit for eligible charges at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties, Priority Pass Select membership, up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
Purchase protections None Purchase protection, return protection, extended warranty
Travel protections None Baggage insurance plan, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, auto rental coverage (secondary)
Other perks None Free Night Award good at any Marriott property up to 50,000 points every year starting with the second year you have the card
INTEREST RATES ON PURCHASES AND BALANCE TRANSFERS
Introductory APR on purchases None None
Length of introductory APR on purchases N/A N/A
Introductory APR on balance transfers 0% None
Length of Introductory APR on balance transfers 18 months N/A
Introductory balance transfer fee 3% or $5, whichever is greater N/A
APR after intro period ends/standard APR 13.99%-23.99% variable 15.74% to 24.74% variable
* Based on point valuations calculated by frequent flyer website The Points Guy.

By and large, the Marriott Brilliant Amex comes with significantly better benefits than our benchmark card, but a sizable $450 annual fee compared to the no-annual-fee Citi Double Cash. For this reason, you’ll really need to be able to take advantage of all the benefits of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card in order to make it worth the cost.

Other credit cards similar to the Marriott Brilliant Amex card

If you’re looking for a Marriott credit card but don’t want to pay $450 a year or don’t think you’ll use all the elite benefits of the Marriott Brilliant Amex, there are two other personal cards to consider, both issued by Chase rather than American Express. Generally speaking, these options are geared to more infrequent Marriott guests who don’t want to pay $450 per year for a hotel credit card.

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card comes with fewer perks but features a much lower $95 annual fee. It earns the same 6 points per dollar at Marriott properties as the Marriott Brilliant Amex and 2 points per dollar on all other purchases, but card holders only get complimentary Marriott Silver elite status instead of Marriott Gold.

You also won’t get any fancy annual credits with the Marriott Boundless card, but like the Marriott Brilliant Amex, you do get an annual Free Night Award starting with the second year you have the card. The difference is that with the Marriott Boundless card, your free night can only be used at any Marriott property worth up to 35,000 points instead of 50,000 points.

Related: Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card.

Meanwhile, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card is the most basic Marriott credit card available. It only earns 3 points per dollar at Marriott properties and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, but it does come with complimentary Marriott Silver elite status and, best of all, no annual fee.

Also, keep in mind that Marriott Bonvoy is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. This opens the door to earning points with a card in either program, then transferring them to your Marriott account only when you need them, while having other options when a Marriott hotel isn’t on your radar.

This terrific flexibility is why we generally prefer credit cards that earn transferable points over hotel credit cards. However, Marriott is one of the few hotel programs that does allow you to transfer points to a large number of airline frequent flyer programs, although Marriott points generally transfer at a 3-to-1 ratio, so you may be better off earning rewards with a traditional flexible points credit card instead.

In any case, you’ll generally only find brand-specific elite benefits on a hotel chain’s own credit cards. But if you’re more interested in earning points than getting perks, you should consider a flexible earning card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card.

Related: Are travel credit cards worth it? Absolutely. Here are the best cards to get.

Should you get the Marriott Brilliant Amex card?

Frequent Marriott guests may find that all the perks of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express card are easily worth the cost.
American Express
Frequent Marriott guests may find that all the perks of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express card are easily worth the cost.

There’s no question that $450 is a lot to invest in a hotel credit card each year. If you aren’t a Marriott loyalist or don’t expect to travel much in 2021, you’ll likely do better with a different credit card, or even a travel credit card that’s geared toward infrequent travelers or “free agents” when it comes to hotel stays.

But if you’re a frequent Marriott guest and want to be treated better than the average customer, the array of benefits you’ll get with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card can help you get more out of each trip you take and enjoy your Marriott stays even more.

Learn more about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Credit Card.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best credit cards of 2021.

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